From Fan to Honorary Team Member

Ace Helgens, Reporter

The Iowa Heartlanders are an East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) hockey team based in Coralville, Iowa. They are affiliated with the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League (NHL). This current season will be the second season the team has played. A long-time hockey fan discovered this team at the beginning of their first season and has now made several signs, shirts, and other merch. This fan is Todd Wilkinson.

Todd has been a hockey fan before he even knew he was a fan. It started around 1986 when he would frequently visit his grandparents. They owned a small black and white 12 inch tv with a VCR. His uncle used to own a video store where Todd would often get different copies of movies; one of his favorites being Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Ferris’ best friend, Cameron, was wearing a Gordie Howe Red Wings jersey.

Todd Wilkson wearing a pride Heartlanders jersey

Todd asked around but nobody knew where the jersey was from. That didn’t dissuade him though as he continued to think that it was the coolest jersey ever. “That’s how the Red Wings became my team. It had nothing to do with ever seeing a Detroit Red Wings game or seeing a hockey game. I didn’t even know what sport that jersey was for, I had no idea.”

He kept on living his life, not a care in the world about the mysterious red jersey. Then 1995 rolled around and he turned 15. He went into a video store and rented a copy of Kevin Smith’s Clerks. “The main characters played roller hockey on the roof of the store and the whole premise of the movie was that Dante wasn’t even supposed to be there today, he’s playing hockey at 2!” Todd got more into hockey after that point, he would even go to a friend’s house and play NHL 94 on his Sega Genesis; Todd claims it was the greatest hockey video game ever made. “That’s when I realized, ‘Holy shit! That jersey is a Red Wings’ jersey! Oh my god!’”

Once this discovery was made he began to watch Red Wings games; coincidentally, this was around the same time the team started to get bigger. They began to succeed again and even became a Stanley Cup contender. His uncle had a satellite dish, (which was not a usual thing at the time,) and would watch different hockey games and playoffs. 

Todd states that he started to pay more attention to hockey because of the different movies he’d watched. This includes a scene from MallRats where Brodie plays the game NHL Powerplay 96 on his Sega Saturn which was a big deal at the time. “I have Kevin Smith [director of Clerks and Mallrats,] to thank for a lot of hockey stuff […] So that’s how I got into hockey without ever seeing a game.”

A picture of Todd’s
signed Kung Fu Carlson sign

This player is Mikael Robidoux [pronounced row-ba-doe]. Robidoux has played 63 overall games in his career however in that same time frame he’s been suspended for 50. He was supposed to have been part of 110 total games. Todd recalls that during this particular game Robidoux had been causing some trouble for the Iowans so a defenseman from the Heartlanders, Alex Carlson decided something needed to be done.

A common fighting move in hockey is when a player will reach out with their non-dominant hand and grab someone else’s shoulder. Then they can swing their dominant fist over and punch away. They don’t even need to see anything because they already know where the other person’s head is. All they need to do is keep on swinging. 

In this particular game Carlson got into position a bit too early, way before he was near Robidoux. It looked like he was in a kung fu move because he had his left arm straight out and his right arm like he was going to swing. Todd consulted the Heartlanders’ fangroup to which some brought up that, ‘[He] really needs to make shirts about that.’ Todd responded by saying okay and going on to make some. 

“They were really, really popular. Like the team bought one for all the players and Calson’s family got a bunch of them too,” He then went on to make more merch and stated he had lots of fun doing it too. He describes how it’s a neat experience to take a sign to a game to cheer on players and the team. Todd states that he doesn’t really see this kind of experience happen as often in minor league sports outside of the major sports. He thought how it would be cool to make that dream into a reality. 

Todd talks about how shirts take a lot to invest in; it’s a lot of money to put upfront to print and distribute them. He tries not to plan and start these types of projects until there are enough people to commit to make that cost worth it. He has also mentioned that he plans to make some hats because, “people didn’t realize you throw your hats on the ice when a player scores a hat trick.” Then people started to say, “Well I wanna throw my hat but I like my hat,” so Todd decided, “Why don’t I make some hats specifically for hat trick tosses?” 

He went through the process of making a design and ordered around 100 hats. He was able to give other fans a couple of cheap hats that people can throw onto the ice and not fret about. When asked about future projects he acknowledged that he always has new ideas and projects he could work on. He also countered this by stating that whether he decides to pursue them depends on his home life and personal career, “but I’ll never run out of ideas!”

During this season and a half Todd has met and even become friends with many of the players, both past and present. He goes on to say that he developed these friendships through fanpage on Facebook. He spoke of how there are many family members of the players that are fans. These family members get to watch their relatives play in a professional league for the first time. It’s nice to have that connection to other fans and see your family members succeed in their career. During Todd’s creation process he wanted to make sure no one was offended by anything he created.

 He never wants to make fun of the team. “I want to encourage the players and I want them to feel good about the things that I’m doing to let them know that I’m out there thinking of them.” When he created Kung Fu Carlson one of Carlson’s family members reached out to him and Todd replied by asking, “Hey I wanna make sure [Carlson’s] okay with this. Can you get me in touch with him?” From there Todd was able to track him down and shoot him a couple of messages. He stated that it seemed to snowball from there. He found that once he friended a few of the players he was easily able to pick through their friend lists to find the rest. He followed this up by stating it would be able to reach out to those players in the case that something came up.

Todd’s memorabilia wall

A lot of the time players are ecstatic when someone decides they want to make merchandise because that type of thing makes a person feel good. Todd reported that most players were fairly receptive about it. He would reach out and say something along the lines of, “Hey I appreciate you playing, we like watching you, and I would just like to give you a bit of a boost of encouragement,” and the player would respond.

He also mentioned that he tends to talk to some of the players more than others. Some previous players have even traveled to Europe and now play on entirely different leagues. Despite that Todd manages to keep a good relationship with the team which benefits him when working with new players. 

When asked if he still talks to previous players he gave an enthusiastic, “Absolutely!” The Heartlanders had a defenseman last year who didn’t get called to be on the team again this year. He ended up playing on a few other teams in the ECHL league. Todd chatted with him everytime he moved teams and eventually became friends with some of the player’s family. Todd used to meet up with said player during games last season and had created some signs for him. 

“I actually just talked to him today. I saw that he’s got released from his contract for a team in [the ECHL] league and I was kinda bummed about that. However I always like to see guys succeed,” Todd continued by saying he was going to reach out to him when he saw a post that stated he had been picked up by the Glasgo Clan and will now play in Scottland. “Would have been nice to have him back here for this year but it’s good for him. It’s tough to see a lot of the guys that are really good leave,” he did say that the good part is that those players are all super nice and enjoy staying in touch. 

Todd was asked that when he first started going to the Heartlanders games if he thought he would get to where he is today. He answered with saying he was unsure. “I just went because I hadn’t been to a hockey game in over a decade,” then he kept on going and eventually came to the conclusion that he had missed it. He was just excited to keep on going and being a part of his favorite sport. 

Todd is now an admin of the Heartlanders fanpage on Facebook and so is his friend Kaitlin. She was first asked how she became a fan of the team. She was given some tickets to opening night and immediately fell in love with it. She then talked about how Todd has requested her help as manager of the fanpage and she gladly accepted. However it did not go without saying she agreed there were many more improvements to be made with the page and the team. She enjoys helping out when she can. 

She avowed that Todd has helped to create a “hockey family” and considers everyone she meets family. He created a survey and allowed everyone to participate, good or bad feedback. “That’s just another example of how he’s tring to improve the experience here at the games,” and attempts to make everyone around him happy. She also mentioned that the signs and shirts he has created are incredible. 

The Heartlanders’ second season will continue until mid April. You can buy tickets to games at the Heartlanders website (, at the XTream Arena box office on a game day,  or watch live on FloHockey.